Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9)

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Transfiguration Day comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, the mountain was high, the glory was great. A voice spoke of the power and majesty that would belong to Jesus. All the earth and its kingdoms lay before His feet, promised to Him, if Jesus would only be obedient to the voice who spoke. But He refused. He rejected this voice, He rejected its offer, He rejected its promise. Instead, He said, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” He refused to transfigure Himself, to grasp after the glory that Satan held before Him; He refused to give worship to any who promised rule over this world apart from the will and plan of His Father. It was the Father who would transfigure His Son, and He would do so at the proper time.

That time came just a couple years later. The mountain was high, the glory was great. A voice spoke of the power and majesty that would belong to Jesus. All the earth and its kingdoms lay before His feet, promised to Him, if Jesus would only be obedient to the voice who spoke. He was clothed in the very glory of God Himself; all that was kept hidden as Jesus walked this earth was brilliantly revealed; the veil was pulled away, if only for a moment. “He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.” Although the angels acclaimed Him, all the shepherds saw on Christmas Eve was a baby; although they worshipped Him with great gifts, all the magi saw on Epiphany was a child; although the voice spoke from heaven, all that John saw at His Baptism was a man; but on this day, Transfiguration Day, the three disciples saw the very glory of God, they viewed the unveiled majesty of the Creator of the universe in the flesh. There was no mistaking on this day, on this mountain, that this Jesus is God. As if any additional proof was needed, Moses and Elijah—the one whose grave no man knows and the one who has no grave, the two men who stood on Mount Sinai and conversed with God Himself—appeared in the midst of this glory, talking to the Christ, pointing to Him, as they ever did during their lives on this earth.

The mountain of Transfiguration seems far different than the mountain of self-transfiguration, the mountain of temptation where Satan ever dwells. But Satan is on this mountain, too, still speaking his enticing words: “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Take the glory without suffering, Easter without the cross. He doesn’t speak directly here, instead using an emissary, the one whom Jesus called ‘Satan’ just six days earlier. “And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.’” Peter is simply echoing the words of our Introit: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord.” His desire to dwell in the glory of the Lord is good and godly, but his words are filled with poison for Jesus. As usual, Satan has twisted the Scriptures and human desires for his own use, to set a stumbling block before Jesus. Even the good and godly desire to dwell in God’s glorious courts can be used to Satan’s ends, if it keeps the Messiah from the cross.

And Peter’s next words reveal that this is exactly the evil one’s strategy. “If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He wants to stay on the mountain; He wants to dwell there forever. He is experiencing heaven, and he never wants the experience to end. Peter is overwhelmed by the glory of Jesus, but he is also impressed to be among such select company. Not one tent, but three tents. He exalts Moses and Elijah to the level of Jesus as three great saints of God; He is as awed by their reflected glory as he is by the glory Christ has in Himself. His focus is not solely on Jesus, but also on those who are with Him. Let us stay here, Lord, worshipping, adoring, conversing with this glorious company!

It is not Jesus who answers Satan’s temptations on this mountain; here God the Father speaks. Peter wanted to build some tents; God makes His own tent, a tent of His glory. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!’” Listen to Jesus; He is my beloved Son. Moses and Elijah are faithful servants, but they are here to point to Jesus, they stand upon this mountain to witness to my Son. They have no desire to exalt themselves; they are not my beloved Son, even though they pointed forward to Him in word and in deed. Listen to no voice that tells you to exalt another human being; my Son is the object of your adoration, because He is your salvation. Listen to Him! It is His voice that you should hear, His voice you should heed.

There are plenty of voices in this world, each claiming to speak with authority. They tell you how to transfigure yourself, how to gain the whole world, as Satan promised on the mountain of temptation. These voices scratch your itching ears, they tell you to seek after glory, to glorify yourself and your own desires, no matter what the cost, no matter what Scripture says about it. They tell you that you deserve to get what you want, that it doesn’t matter whose reputation you destroy on your way to the top. They tell you, as Satan told Peter, to exalt mere humans as God has exalted His Son, whether political leaders, celebrities, football players, or even pastors, but especially yourself, to give sinful humans the honor and worship reserved for God in the flesh. These voices tell you to glory in man. They tell you, as Satan told Peter, to seek glory without suffering, to grasp after victory and majesty without the cross. These voices promise glory, they promise healing, they promise increase, all without the inconvenience of suffering. If your faith is strong enough, if you are a truly a Christian, your life will get better; you can have glory without the suffering. Do not listen to them! Refuse to indulge in their lies!

Listen to Jesus! He alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to Him! He tells you that He cannot stay on that mountain, and neither can you. The mountain-top is not your home, as much as you may want it to be, at least not yet. The voices want you to live on the mountain; aloof from this world, seeking to dwell in that spiritual high that you captured at a youth gathering or concert, or at the Christmases of your youth. The voices want you to chase that feeling, to seek it again and again to keep your faith running strong. The voices want you to make three tents: one for Jesus, one for your pastor, and one for the band (or the organ!). Do not listen to them! Listen to Jesus! He calls you to come down from the mountain and into the valley, for that is the path He must tread. The mountain of Transfiguration has given a glimpse of the glory yet to be, but that glory will only come after suffering. If Jesus stays on that mountain, there will be no glory, for you, for me, for anyone. There will only be darkness for us, even if Jesus continues to shine like a beacon. Listen to Jesus; He must go to the cross. There He will find another kind of glory, but like the glory of Transfiguration, it will drive men to their knees. On that day, Good Friday, as this same Jesus hung dead upon the cross, with the earth shaking and the sun refusing to shine, the centurion in terror cried out, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The centurion wasn’t on the mountain of Transfiguration, but at the mountain of Christ’s death, Mount Calvary, he understands, at least in part, what is going on. This man, beaten, bloodied, dead, is the Son of God. There is glory hidden there, the glory of God Himself. The Transfiguration was a gift of Jesus to His disciples, a vision of glory to hold on to in the midst of the horrors that were to come, the promise that on the other side of suffering lies exaltation, for Jesus and for us. The Transfiguration is the promise of Easter, of resurrection; His and yours. The Transfiguration shows us what Jesus went down that mountain to win; it is a foretaste of the glory yet to be when He comes again on the Last Day. The Transfiguration shows us the price that needed to be paid for our sin; the cross shows us that Christ was willing to pay it. He goes into the valley of the shadow of death to destroy death; and thus He is with you in the valley, in your suffering, with the promise of deliverance, the promise of glory. The glory will come; that is His promise, His guarantee, sealed by His shed blood. That is your comfort, no matter what your eyes see; He has not left you alone.

The disciples were overwhelmed by the voice of the Father, rebuking Peter, pointing to His Son. They fell on their faces in fear. Then the vision ended, and there was no one left but Jesus only. “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus only. Only Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father, the Messiah promised long ago. Only Jesus went to the cross to win glory for us, giving up His life into death to destroy death. Only Jesus can give comfort to you in the midst of affliction, in the midst of suffering; He doesn’t stay up on the mountain-top, but He goes with you into the muck of this sinful world to speak words of comfort. Listen to Jesus. He says, “I forgive you all your sins;” He says, “You are baptized into my name;” He says, “This is my Body, this is my Blood;” He says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He says these things to you, and He doesn’t lie. His resurrection proves it. The next time someone would say, ‘Have no fear,’ it was an angel, standing outside of an empty tomb. Have no fear, the promise of the Transfiguration has been fulfilled in the glories of Easter. Have no fear, the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing to the glories that are yet to come. Suffering comes before glory, but O the glory Chris has for us! There, on Mount Zion, we will say for eternity, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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